Posts Tagged ‘hebrews’

I received a Christmas letter from some friends serving in a country in Asia where nongovernment controlled churches are illegal as well as most forms of public or private expression of the Christian faith. This is a country where pastors are regularly jailed, home churches crushed, and movements squashed. Churches have to switch up meeting times and places in order to keep fellowship alive. People giving out the Jesus Film have been executed. My friends have been living there for a number of years, now as a family of 4, seeking to see the gospel furthered. I had to quote some of the letter as the wife quotes one of the nationals she is helping grow in Christ:

Someone asked me to look back on this year and give them a summary of what we have seen and I thought you might be interested in a short story or two of how the girls we disciple have grown recently.

Someone who chooses to be a disciple here must choose to go against their culture and face pressure from all sides, including parents, friends, and employers.  For many, once they grab a hold of the Truth and make His Word a part of their lives, they just can’t live the same way anymore.  I’ve seen this lived out on a daily basis from a friend I’ll call Sarah.  She has been studying regularly with me for some time and is growing in her faith, and I see a change in her week to week.  Just last week, she told me that she felt she could compare her life to that of the Israelites when they were leaving Egypt because they just complained about everything that God gave them, even though most things were meant to be blessings and provisions for them.  Because of their complaints, many lost their lives and they had to wander another 40 years.  Sarah said that as she keeps her eyes on Jesus and the road He is directing her to take, it is hard not to complain and wonder if it is fair. To paraphrase our last conversation, she said:  Due to my education and work experience, I have been working as a cashier/accountant for the last few years, but I can’t do that any longer because in that occupation, I am forced to cheat people and lie everyday. So now I’m having a hard time finding a job since I can no longer work in that way.  Also, most people must work seven days a week and it’s very difficult to have Sundays off and that is a must for me now so that I can attend fellowship.  I’d also like to have one other day during the week off to help serve and volunteer my time, but that dream seems impossible.  In addition, I’m getting pressure from my parents and friends to get married, but I tell them that I can only date and marry men who are Christians.  They all criticize me and tell me I’m stupid, foolish, and lazy.  They say that I’ve given up many good opportunities for work and marriage because of my new faith and that what I do each day is useless.  Since I’m not working, I’ve been taking advantage of my free time by studying the Bible everyday, listening to sermons online, and reading devotional books that my teacher has given me.  But they just say I’m wasting my time.  Now that I’m a Christian, I can’t be angry at my dad or those who say these hurtful things to me and I have to just hold my tongue when they yell at me.  I have to just keep silent.  But I’ve seen a change in my father.  Now that I don’t yell back, he runs out of things to say and just lets the subject drop.  When my aunt was going to come over for a visit, my mom and dad both asked me if I was going to share the gospel with her while she was there.  They were being somewhat sarcastic in their question, but it was a great idea!  I love to serve, to spread the gospel, and to spend time with the Lord.

Sarah went on to explain that many people around her are in the same condition and that in some ways we are all like the Israelites.  But now, she can see that even the difficulties that she faces is just training from the Lord and that it’s not an easy road, but it’s worth it because the end will be so good.

Is all that worth it? This sweet gal has given up marriage and jobs for the sake of Jesus. She’s been drilled by her family and friends for it. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then we who believe in Jesus are most to pitied, especially Sarah. But Jesus did rise from the dead and He tells us this:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:32-35 ESV)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

You bet it’s worth it. In this life we get plenty of fresh starts to remind us of this: a new year, a new day, a new month, a new birth, or a new decade even. One day, Christ will give us one final fresh start that will be like none other we’ve ever seen. Father God, in 2011, let me more fervently anticipate that day when everything will be made new.

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Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity. – Augustine

A habit of reading the Bible will get broken easier than anything else

Focused time with God in the Word without a plan is difficult to sustain. Few of us are more disciplined than others, and I’m not arguing all of our walks or relationships with God look the same. However, just like I should not be showing up to a date night too unintentionally, I need a plan in my reading. This helps push us toward a good goal. Legalism, you say? It’s the Word! Will you really look back on your life regretting that you were too committed to reading the Bible?

None of us are too busy to read the Word. But why is it so hard? We have so many reasons to skip time in the scriptures, often those reasons have less to do with time and more to do with where we choose to spend our time. Is time in the Word a priority? Are we more faithful to spend 15 minutes reading up on sports or status updates than reading our Bible? We have 5 kids under the age of 6, think it’s hard for my wife or me to get into the Word and pray sometimes? You bet. So what keeps me going back? My love for the Word. When I sleep in too late or blow off my time in the Word, I crave it. Now, obviously, this is the work of the Holy Spirit in my life growing my love for Him. But what is our part?

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:11-12 ESV)

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:15-16 ESV)

Make a habit to seek the Word. God has wired us so that habits tend to affect our desires. When I oversleep for a week and run off without pursuing God in His Word, it becomes very hard the next week to get up. I start to not even desire to get up early. As I break this habit, the desire drifts as well. The more I daily snack on candy, the harder it is stop. We heat our lower level with a wood stove. I used to grumble in my head about making a fire in the mornings. Now I just do it and I enjoy doing it. When I head downstairs first thing in the mornings and it’s dark and cold outside, I just automatically bring in more wood and get a fire going. I don’t even think about it really. It’s same thing with approaching the Word. The more I seek God in the Word daily, the harder it is to stop. Now, don’t get me wrong, we battle the flesh which means that prayer and reading the Word will probably always be easier habits to break. Setting a habit of indulging the flesh in candy or fantasy football is very easy!

The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian. – AW Tozer

A Bible reading plan will help with this habit. It’s a plan. It’s so you don’t come to the Word and wonder what you’re going to read and it keeps you pressing on to finish the Bible. Is this legalism? It is if you find yourself just doing your duty and banging out your readings every day. A plan is a means to discipline, to establish a solid habit of pursuing God’s Word. Some of us can dwell in the Word consistently without a plan, but not me! If reading God’s Word without a plan is not habit for you, it will be difficult at first, and you will have to make a more concerted effort. But isn’t it worth it?

The more you read the Bible; and the more you meditate on it, the more you will be astonished with it. – Charles Spurgeon

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Bible reading has become the religious equivalent of sound-bite journalism. When people read from the Bible they typically open it, read a brief passage without much regard for the context, and consider the primary thought or feeling that the passage provided. If they are comfortable with it, they accept it; otherwise, they deem it interesting but irrelevant to their life, and move on. There is shockingly little growth evident in people’s understanding of the fundamental themes of the scriptures and amazingly little interest in deepening their knowledge and application of biblical principles. – George Barna

Merry Christmas! Besides celebrating the incarnation of the One who came to serve and be a ransom for us, it also means the end of another year and the start of a new one. I love how Christmas is linked with the fresh start of a new year! Two key things in my walk I will constantly and never stop advocating for are the use of a Bible reading schedule and the value of consistently reading the whole of the Bible. Bible reading schedules have significant value as they lay a nice framework to tackle the Bible each year.

Overview of the Bible is underrated

As the two younger generations (Busters and Mosaics) ascend to numerical and positional supremacy in churches across the nation, the data suggest that biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency. – George Barna

When the bell drops on 2010, I will have read through the entire Bible for the 14th time and I feel like I am just beginning to get it. I am starting to see the fruit of gaining familiarity with the whole of the Word. I see connections between the Old Testament and New Testament much easier than 5 or 10 years ago. The Bible is starting to feel like a unified text revealing God’s glory in His plan to redeem us from sin through Christ. Leviticus flows right into reading Hebrews. Malachi connects with how Jesus attacks religious legalism in the Gospels. When you start to see God’s grace revealed in Kings or Malachi, approaching the Word suddenly becomes more of a love than a habit or duty. But it’s just starting to feel that way, only recently have I begun this romance with God’s word.

Reading the Old Testament (OT) can be frustrating, but we’re so unfamiliar with it. Many avoid the OT, at least all the books after Joshua. It is tougher and can seem like a drudgery or a discouragement to a lot of us. How do I deal with the slaughter of the Canaanites? What relevance is 1 Chronicles to me? Why is all that harsh brutality of the book of Judges even in the Bible? Why does God seem so condemning in the minor and major prophets? Legitimate questions, only answered by an understanding of the Bible as a whole.

Any part of the human body can only be properly explained in reference to the whole body. And any part of the Bible can only be properly explained in reference to the whole Bible. – F.F. Bruce

We’re quick to zoom in without connecting with the big picture. We often find one verse that stands out instead of trusting God to understand what He is communicating through a book as a whole or section. 1 and 2 Kings demonstrate how hard it is to finish the race strong. Judges shows what happens to us over and over again when we reject God and yield to sinful, violent, brutal ways. It’s easy to get stuck on a challenging verse or section of scripture and give up, especially in the OT. Understanding the larger framework and literature types, seeing everything in light of the cross, and utilizing a reading schedule helps us both grasp those challenging passages and press on to learn more. A schedule helps you consistently read it all and not avoid the hard sections. It helps you read larger chunks in one sitting so as to see more of the big picture. God will give you progress in understanding the Bible as you patiently and diligently trust Him to do it over time, not after just one year. Seek to know the Bible significantly better than any book you’ve ever read, not just for knowledge but to know Him.

“Take time. Give God time to reveal Himself to you. Give yourself time to be silent and quiet before Him, waiting to receive, through the Spirit, the assurance of His presence with you, His power working in you. Take time to read His Word as in His presence, that from it you may know what He asks of you and what He promises you. Let the Word create around you, create within you a holy atmosphere, a holy heavenly light, in which your soul will be refreshed and strengthened for the work of daily life.” (Hudson Taylor)

It was just because he did this that Hudson Taylor’s life was full of joy and power, by the grace of God. When over seventy years of age he paused, Bible in hand, as he crossed the sitting-room in Lausanne, and said to one of his children: “I have just finished reading the Bible through, today, for the fortieth time in forty years.” And he not only read it, he lived it. – Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret)

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